Detroit radio personality Ken Calvert helps create unique Catholic Q&A show
BIRMINGHAM — What happens when a rock n’ roller and a “holy roller” get together with a microphone in between them?
No, it’s not a joke. It’s the premise of the “Father Joe Podcast.”
Recorded in the home of retired Detroit radio host Ken Calvert, a rock jock for more than 40 years, the show features Fr. Joe Grimaldi, a priest in residence at St. Hugo of the Hills Parish in Bloomfield Hills, and Calvert volleying back and forth on everything from favorite prayers to whether or not husbands can be “too Catholic.”
It’s that laid-back atmosphere that Calvert credits with giving the podcast a unique flavor.
“I think people find the podcast refreshing,” Calvert told The Michigan Catholic. “It’s a bit of a refresher course for me and others who ask questions that I bring to Father. I think people have come to realize there are certain things they don’t know about the faith or don’t know why we do what we do.”
The idea for the podcast began where all great Detroit-area ideas occur: A Coney Island.
“I called Fr. Joe and said I wanted to run an idea past him,” Calvert said of the pair’s initial meeting at Kerby’s Koney Island off Woodward Avenue in Birmingham after Mass one day. “I told him he’s such a great storyteller, he ought to have a show called ‘Ask Father.’ So I told him, ‘We should start a podcast,’ and he delivers this line: ‘What’s a podcast?’”
More than 60 episodes later, Fr. Grimaldi has become an experienced podcaster, offering his expertise with prompts from Calvert.
“It’s a simple, conversation-type formula, where we’re able to speak about rather important topics without coming across too deeply about them,” Fr. Grimaldi told The Michigan Catholic.
Fr. Grimaldi and Calvert’s relationship goes way back to Brother Rice High School in Birmingham, where Calvert, class of 1969, was a student — and, he proudly adds, the Warriors mascot — and Fr. Grimaldi was a teacher and later assistant principal after joining the Christian Brothers.
Fr. Grimaldi, a New York native, served in Michigan, Hawaii and California in various education and pastoral roles. He was ordained in 1990 after studying at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., and the Gregorian University in Rome. He studied canon law and later served as the vicar general and judicial vicar for the Diocese of Honolulu. Upon retirement, Fr. Grimaldi came back “home” to Michigan.
Calvert’s radio career began after a failed interview for the classical radio station at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids. He transferred to Oakland Community College’s Orchard Lake campus, where he worked for the school’s radio station.
Through contacts with the college station, Calvert landed a job with WWWW-Detroit in 1973, beginning a 45-year career in radio, with most of it in rock n’ roll, and four years at WJR.
Calvert uses his decades of radio experience to create a laid-back show that mixes theological truth with everyday humor.
“Radio is based on what they call ‘teases,’ such as, ‘Something just came across the wire with the Detroit Lions regarding a possible trade, this changes everything, and we’ll have more at 11:42,’” Calvert said. “I take what we talk about or what I read the night before and use it as a tease for the show. For example, ‘What do you do when you mix a mustard seed with a parable? We’ll have more.’”
Calvert and Fr. Grimaldi record a new episode every Wednesday morning and answer listener questions on Thursday and Sunday mornings, hoping to stay engaged with the growing audience.
To keep listeners’ support, it’s important to stay active with producing content and engaging with the audience, Calvert said.
“One of my bosses back at the WRIF (101.1-FM) said the No. 1 most loyal audience by far is in Christian radio, podcasting and music,” Calvert said. “They stay engaged, they ask questions, they embrace you. I myself have been reinvigorated from this show, going back and doing the research or just listening to Father. There is so much I didn’t know, that I now know. It’s caused me to have a whole new world to explore.”
Fr. Grimaldi adds the “Father Joe Podcast” is the type of creative “shallow-entry point” called for in Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron’s pastoral letter, Unleash the Gospel.
“I get feedback before and after Mass, with some people telling me they can’t get through the day without listening to a podcast,” Fr. Grimaldi said. “Some say we’re the first thing they do when they go on vacation.”
Calvert hopes the podcast will continue to inspire as an easy access point to the richness of the Catholic faith.
“I’m hoping what we can provide is a bit of a history lesson on the Catholic Church for people who want to know more. I want Christians who aren’t Catholic, or Catholics who don’t practice their faith as much, to really get it. For people who walked away from the faith, or just want to get back into it, this is the place to start.”